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Defense leads to big Tigers victory

Sunday, December 14, 2008 | 5:32 p.m. CST; updated 10:13 p.m. CST, Sunday, December 14, 2008
Missouri's Jasmyn Otote, right, blocks a shot attempt by Tennessee Martin's Yalonda Martin in a game last December at Mizzou Arena.

COLUMBIA — With 2:16 left in the second half, Tennessee Martin freshman guard Kiara Smith hit a 15-foot jump shot for the Skyhawks. The shot was seemingly unremarkable, cutting the Skyhawks' deficit to 72-21. But it stood out as UT Martin’s first field goal of the second half.

The Missouri women's basketball team defeated UT Martin 74-23 on Sunday at Mizzou Arena, holding the Skyhawks to two field goals in the second half. It was the fewest points scored by a Missouri opponent since the Tigers held Bethany College to 21 points on Jan. 1, 1977.

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The Tigers were active in the passing lanes on defense, forcing 30 turnovers and collecting 22 steals. Missouri converted 37 points off of those turnovers. It’s the fifth game in a row that Missouri has forced at least 20 turnovers. Four of those games have left the Tigers victorious.

“That was our mindset going in,” Missouri coach Cindy Stein said. “We want to dominate people defensively.”

UT Martin is hardly one of the better teams on Missouri’s schedule. The Skyhawks won only five games last year and Sunday’s loss dropped them to 1-7 this season. They were making 22 turnovers per game going into Sunday’s game. But Stein said her team is capable of playing this way against any team on their schedule.

“I think that realistically we can carry our defense to wherever we want to take it against any Big 12 team,” Stein said. “It’s a matter of confidence growing, knowing when to take chances and when not to, getting your rotations right. I think that a lot of your defense is effort. Rebounding’s effort. Those are things that you do control. I don’t see why it can’t work against Big 12 teams.”

Freshman guard Bekah Mills led the Tigers with six steals while sophomore guard RaeShara Brown added four. Brown’s role as a defensive stopper and spark plug has led some members of Missouri’s staff to start referring to her as the “Energizer Bunny.” Brown says that is a nickname she is growing fond of.

“I think I embrace that, the Energizer Bunny part,” Brown said. “Because I think I can be a big bottle of energy sometimes. I think my team feeds off of it a lot, and it brings a lot of positive energy.”

Missouri improved to 5-4, which is the first time the Tigers have been above .500 since they were 8-7 after beating Texas Tech last January.

 


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